9/12/19, Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman

Beloved:

My grandfather had a special mason jar filled he kept in the fridge. When he would come in from the fields after changing pipe or hauling hay, he would stand there right in front of the door and finish it off in one long satisfying go.

Every summer, my family spent a week or two at my grandparents’ farm. My siblings and I don’t agree on many things, but we all concur that time spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s was just the best. By modern standards, there wasn’t anything to “do.” We were expected to entertain ourselves and stay out of the adults’ way. The boys would often join dad and grandpa when he went irrigating. My sister and I most often played outdoors with the dishes and clothes that grandma had stored in a big old trunk in the old chicken coop.

Grandpa irrigated his lawn, so that the grass was like walking on a carpet. You could run in it barefoot without worry of getting a sticker in your foot from thistles or weeds. The big cottonwood tree in the back was the home of the tire swing—that could be anything from a spaceship to a bucking bronco—depending which of us was using it at the time.

There were feral cats that grandma fed table scraps to each day. We would watch her perched in the kitchen sink, because they wouldn’t come if we were outside. Every once in a while, we might catch a glimpse of a kitten in the haystack, but they were wild little things that had no difficulty escaping from our well-meaning attentions.

The only thing we didn’t like about our visits to the farm, was the water. Our grandparents were on a well. When you turned on the faucet, it smelled of minerals and whatever else might be lurking. To a bunch of city kids, this just wasn’t right. Grandma tried to make it more palatable by making pitchers of Kool-aid. They weren’t pre-sweetened back then, and the instructions suggested adding one cup of sugar. I don’t know how much sugar she used, but I always felt that if I suddenly bit down while I was drinking, my teeth would go “crunch.” It helped. And, at least, it was better than the water from the tap.

Except. The mason jar in the refrigerator. I know for a fact that my sister and brothers and I never talked about the mason jar. But there was just something alluring about seeing grandpa guzzle down that cool water that made it seem like it must have come from a special spring—reserved only for him. We had seen him fill it, so we knew it was from the tap. But, there was just something about seeing that jar on its shelf every time we looked in the fridge.

One summer day, I was by myself in the kitchen. I was thirsty, so I opened the fridge. And there it was: Grandpa’s jar. Cool. Clear. Tempting. I’m sure grandpa wouldn’t mind if I had just a little sip. So, very carefully, I took a little sip, or two. It was good. Really good. No one noticed.

The next day, I did the same. Not much, just a little. I’m sure no one would mind. Grandma always kept a store of Juicy Fruit gum in the cupboard for when we came to visit. We never had to ask to have some. We knew it was okay. This must be like that. At least that is what I tried to tell myself.

A day or so later, my sister and I were playing in the back yard and we suddenly heard grandpa’s voice. It was loud. He called us all into the kitchen. I don’t know about everyone else, but my heart was beating really fast. It beat even faster when we got into the kitchen and discovered what grandpa was upset about. He was standing at the door of the refrigerator (letting all the cool air out, as grandma would always complain). He was holding his mason jar. It had about a half inch of water in the bottom. Not nearly enough to quench a raging thirst.

The four of us stood quietly in front of him. “Who drank all my water?” We all looked at the floor. I knew with absolute certainty that Ihad not drank that whole jar of water. I only took a sip or two. Then it suddenly came to me, I wasn’t the only one! Not one of us confessed, because we were all thinking exactly the same thing, “I didn’t drink all your water.”

Grandpa didn’t stay mad long. He requested, in his gruff serious voice, that if we took a sip, we needed to refill the jar. Obviously, that had not occurred to any of us. We had, after all, just taken a sip or two.

Perception is an interesting thing. The well water was undrinkable in my mind. There was no way I would ever willingly drink anything that came out of that smelly faucet. And yet, the picture of my grandfather thoroughly enjoying draining that jar made four children decide that something magical must have happened to make that same water the best thing any of us had ever tasted.

There are lots of things that I might learn from that story: always refill the jar, for one. But I think the thing that captures me about this memory, is that the water became sweet, not because of a container, or a temperature, but because of my grandfather. He declared it wonderful. And so, it was.

God declares a lot more things to be wonderful than I do: people, situations, invitations. Oh, I usually get there with enough prodding. But I wonder what my life would be like if I simply watched God, like my siblings and I watched our grandfather, for the cues that would teach me about blessings, wonder and grace. My guess is that something magical might happen.

Blessing, Pastor Nancy

9/6/19, Weekly Note From The Preacher Woman

Beloved:

One day I was walking home for lunch when I noticed a woman and a young girl walking on the sidewalk opposite me. The adult monologue sounded familiar: “Come on! Hurry up!” I smiled: the way of a harried mom and her child—or at least it seems that way to me. We are in a hurry, and they are blissfully unaware of our sense of urgency. I could hear the clip clapping of the little girl’s flip flops as they snapped against her bare feet. The inevitable happened, and I heard a sudden wail. “My shoe! My shoe!” In trying to hurry, she had lost one of her shoes. Her mom went back to help her look. I offered to help. “No, we’ll find it. Oh, here it is!” They went on their way. And I continued my journey home.

As I made my tuna sandwich (to the extremely concentrated stares of two small dogs), I mused a bit on the drama of hurrying parents and dawdling children. I wish I could say that I had never said those words to my sons when they were little…but I know for certain I did. Why, I wonder, was I always in such a hurry? I remember strapping one of my sons into his car seat one afternoon. As I got into the driver’s seat, he startled me by declaring, “I never want to grow up.” I immediately asked why. And being a thought little person, he replied, “’Cause, all you ever do is work-work-work: errands-errands-errands.” Yikes. That was a hard truth to hear coming from a four year old!

On another more recent day, I was walking in the park to get some steps on my pedometer (a health and wellness goal),  and noticed a mom and two young children walking in front of me on the path. They were not hurrying. (I’m pretty certain they were not wearing pedometers!) The little boy was scurrying from one side of the path to the other, like a puppy, pointing out this and that. His wise mother let him lead the way and take his time. I have to confess that I hadn’t brought my “puppies” to the park with me for my walk, because they tend to do the same thing. (There are so many exciting things to smell and see, after all.) After a bit, the mom reached down to pick up the little girl and carry her piggyback. By the time I caught up with them, they were just stopping to rest in the shade. I complemented the woman on what good walkers her children were. “They love to walk,” she replied. The little boy came up from behind his mother to let me know that there “are fire ants right over there!”

Children are such good teachers, if I will only take the time to pay attention. They know the secret of meandering, of discovering moments that I miss if I allow myself to be distracted by my busy brain, and the endless list of tasks and worries. Dogs are too.

Being away for the last three weeks has allowed me to slow down. I have had time to listen, to pray deeply, to write, to read. And notice stuff.

I sat in a beautiful garden every day. I felt the sun on my face and waited for the hummingbirds to flit among the flowers. Did you know that Anna hummingbirds make a delightful creaking sound? It reminds me of an old screen door being opened and closed. I breathed in the scent of dozens of different blooms, trying to identify each one that merged into a perfume that nothing in the world could replicate. And then I took some yoga classes and learned how to really breathe. (It’s harder than it looks.) I watched a stranded helium balloon in a tall tree in the neighborhood, feeling sad that it ruined the profile of the great tall oak–until the slanting sun turned it into a molten golden orb against the darkening sky. I rediscovered the delight in small moments. I savored. I stopped hurrying.

Now that I am home, the temptation is to go back to everything I left behind—the busyness, the eternal demands of the calendar and the never-ending lists. My head is filled with all the to-dos of fall. I look forward to what lies ahead. But I hope that I can hold onto the lessons learned from children, and from taking time away. May it be so for all of us.

Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note From the Preacher Woman, 6/13/19

Beloved:

I am writing this week from Eugene, where I am attending the Oregon-Idaho annual conference. Methodists have held annual conferences since the time of the Wesley brothers. In our tradition, ordained elders and deacons hold their membership, not in a local congregation, but in a conference. For many clergy, these yearly meetings become something like a family reunion: seeing folks you may not have seen all year long, catching up on the news—personal and professional—and getting recharged for the coming year.

This year is a particularly interesting moment among our numbers. We are trying to sort out what is going on with the larger denomination, and how the Oregon-Idaho, Greater Northwest, and Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist church will respond to the events of the 2019 Specially called General Conference. We will be elected representatives—clergy and lay—who will attend the 2020 General Conference and the Western Jurisdictional Conference.

While I’m here, I am also doing a bit of research on how some of our colleagues in ministry in the Eugene area are working with issues of homelessness in their community. They have worked creatively and diligently on creating partnerships with organizations and our homeless neighbors on finding solutions. So, I am excited to have a chance to see what they are doing and ask lots of questions.

Amanda, Emily, Justin and Jill Plant are all helping out as pages and volunteers to keep things running smoothly. At last night’s worship, the younger Plants assisted in a remembrance of baptism ritual at the end of the service. We were invited to “touch the water” and remember our belovedness. It was a gift to receive that blessing from Emily as I walked toward the front of the church.

I will also be meeting with two clergy who have invited me to share leadership in the Transformation Prayer retreat that will be held at Suttle Lake in September. The registration information is available in the office if you are interested. It will be held immediately prior to our All-Church retreat.

Elders in the Methodist system are expected to do work for the larger church. It is part of our job description from the very beginning or our training and ordination. For many years, I worked primarily with committees, primarily the Board of Ordained Ministry. I also served on Sessions Planning, Leading conference worship, Board of Trustees, Clergy Meetings, was the Chair of the Elders, you name it—if it was a meeting, I probably was part of it.

Being a newbie to this conference, I have managed to stay under the radar in terms of serving on committees (shh! Don’t tell anyone!) So, in this season, I have been able to self-select some of the ways I am serving the conference. This summer, I am going to chaplain at two summer camps—one at Adventure Camp at Suttle Lake, and the other at Magruder. After so many years of long travel days to sit in meetings for hours, I have to say, I am looking forward to time spent out of doors in our beautiful state.

It would be difficult to do these things without our terrific team of folks at Madras UMC—Chris, who always keeps things going, Mike for stepping in to preach as needed, the music team, all the volunteers who do so many things to keep us going. So—in preparation for a few more adventures outside the building—thanks, Team!

Be sure and stay tuned for a variety of our special activities this summer. We have Wednesday Worship starting June 19th, at 7:00 p.m. Ukuleles, reflections, stories, and treats. I can’t wait! The Ukes will then plan on helping to lead worship on our Suttle Lake Picnic Adventure. (Be sure to let Chris know you are coming!)

Jill will be leading a summer choir—we will rehearse June 25th and July 2nd , and then sing July 4th at Sahalee Park after the parade. We will be singing other times during the summer as well, so stay tuned.

Summer Worship is going to have a “Around the Campfire” theme beginning next week. We will be drawing from our camping canon for our music, and interviewing some of our folks about their journeys. It is a great time to dress casually, connect with the beloved, and grow a bit deeper in our faith and life together.

Barb, Chris and I know you will all be out there adventuring as well this summer. We would love to hear about your trips and explorations. We would love to see your pictures. Last summer we challenged ourselves to seeing if we could keep the “campfires” burning without the big “dip” that so often happens when so many of us are vacationing. You all met the challenge! We hope that you will step up again this year, make our treasurer happy, but also remember that what we do here is absolutely amazing! At conference this year, Madras UMC has been named as one of the “Abundant Health” congregations in Oregon-Idaho (they gave us ribbons and everything!) So, again, we invite you to keep up God’s work.

This has rambled on, sorry about that, but I am so proud of our congregation and the commitment we have together to be welcoming, vibrant and outwardly focused! I can’t help but share the story whenever I can.

Have a good week! And don’t miss Mike’s sermon on Sunday, called “God’s Delight!”

Blessings, Dear Ones,

Pastor Nancy